Someday Has Come For Troy Polamalu

Jim Wexell writes about the Steelers' decision with their Hall of Fame-bound safety, and reflects on Troy Polamalu's career, family and life.

As the snow turned to rain and then to ice and then back to snow, the grouchiness, the unpleasantness, the cabin fever, it only grew -- exponentially, it seemed, in this wicked winter of 2015.

But the dream, that was something else.

I teach my daughter not to talk about her night-time dreams because while some of them are so clear and detailed and memorable, they only bore others.

Yet, I'm going to break my own rule and bore you with mine, because the sun was so bright and so warm and I was at a park pavilion with my family and we were listening to Troy Polamalu play the piano about 15 feet away.

It was some kind of stormy thing he had worked up, and he gave me the lyrics sheet. And the lyrics were just awful. I know he's a cornball at times, and this song smelled like team spirit, all full of football pep.

The lyrics were far from the storm he was calling up on his piano. It was some kind of strange mix of Sousa and Wagner.

And then a storm did in fact move in. Troy had to run for cover and sit with us. The detail was so clear, particularly the flecks of gray in his hair. And he said something in a shaky, shaky voice -- to steal from Neil Young -- that was as real as the day was long. But I couldn't remember what he said. I remembered the laugh, though. He always laughs, and I would know it to hear it.

The detail in his laugh is what I remembered most about this dream. That and the fact I just sat back and crossed my legs. I never cross my legs, but I remembered that when I awoke. And when I awoke, as the real world came crashing back, I wondered why I didn't ask him about his future. Why didn't I ask Troy Polamalu if he was going to retire or take the cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers that we all know is inevitable.

No, I crossed my legs and relaxed and didn't feel the need to pump him for anything; not about his imminent retirement; not about my book that's drawing cobwebs in the corner near my fireplace; not about anything. I just enjoyed his company, even though neither one of us had much to say.

There's a message in there somewhere. Maybe it's that we all want more from him, and to just be thankful for what we've already received, what we've seen, what we've heard. More than anything, that dream was about what I heard, and I don't know why.

Of course, what we've been hearing, and what I've been reporting here at since I heard it at the combine, is that only Art Rooney II can save Troy if he wants to play again for the Steelers.

Polamalu's been working out, but the coaching staff has made the decision that enough's enough, and that only the owner can force them to keep Polamalu for another season.

It's harsh. It's not something I've been wanting to pound out and present as front-page clickbait. I've answered your questions as quietly and with as much dignity, for Troy, as I deem necessary. There's just something ugly about seeing his face plastered on TV as some newsreader tells the world that so-and-so has reported what most of us -- fans included -- have known since the end of the season.

Troy Polamalu is done.

Not that he went out like Willie Mays the Met. He was playing OK before taking a blast in the back of the knee during a weird play just before halftime against the Baltimore Ravens. He hit a running back but the back didn't go down. Instead the back pinballed into Stephon Tuitt and then back into Troy's leg as Troy was trying to get up. The hit sprained Polamalu's MCL and he left the game, a game the Steelers won 43-23.

I waited for him in the locker room, and then I waited for TV reporters to ask their superficial questions and be gone, because I thought I could get something more out of Troy, something real.

Are you OK?

"I'm doing all right. Thank you," he said.

Classic Troy. The guy's injured, and I want details, but he's turned it into polite chit-chat.

I told him it was a weird play, just to get him started, and he took me back, past the play, to his junior year in high school.

"You'll appreciate this story," he started. "I got picked off first base. I played center field so I go out to center field and my uncle was out there saying 'You beep beep beep. You stink, blah blah blah.' So I went to rob a home run. There was a chainlink fence with the little spikes on the top, and my face and ear got torn up and I was bleeding all over the place, and I heard this voice, 'That's what you get. You deserved that, blah blah blah.' So the funny thing is when I missed that tackle I kind of looked back and saw the guy spinning and he was still up and then all of the sudden he lands on me. The first voice that came to my mind was, 'That's what you get!'"

Troy knew I would appreciate it because I know his family. The uncle is a gentle giant of a man who is so proud of the athlete and man his nephew has become. That he rode him hard should not be judged, because obviously it has worked. Say what you want about discipline, and everyone has their own style, but the proof is in the product. In fact, anyone who helped raise Polamalu deserves a standing ovation because his story isn't so much about self-preservation as it is about taking a village to raise a child. We have proof because Troy's brother was raised by a different village and the results were less than sparkling.

Troy's story is familiar to most Steelers fans, but his brother's isn't.

Troy's father left the day Troy was born and his mother raised Troy in the same Santa Ana streets in which the older brother -- taller and said to be more athletic than Troy -- became afflicted with gangs and drugs. He was kicked out of high school and came out of reform school wanting to play football and convinced the coach of a local Los Angeles community college that he was clean. He led the team in sacks that season as a defensive end and became the team captain the next season, and raised a bit of a kerfluffle when he appeared on the school's media guide with a gang sign tattooed on his hand.

His revival as an athlete didn't last long, so mom didn't want the same for her nine-year-old baby. With stepfather wanting Troy out of the house anyway, mom thought it best to take Troy north to Aunt Shelley and Uncle Salu in Oregon. The rest is not only Steelers history, but the kind of history that should be re-told to each generation of young athlete who attempts to mix the competitive mentality necessary to win with the dignity of fair play and sportsmanship.

"I've wrestled with my competitiveness all my life," Troy once told me, before starting a story about his six-year-old son.

"He was playing soccer and another boy kept knocking him down and taking the ball. I pulled him aside and said, 'Paisios, I know daddy has taught you about sportsmanship, but sometimes you have to hit the others. It's OK. It's part of the game.' And then he went out and knocked the boy over and took the ball. But the boy was on the ground crying and they stopped play and the coaches and the officials came running over. And then Paisios started crying himself, and he pointed at me and said, 'HE told me to do it!'"

And Troy chuckled that unmistakable chuckle that I would be able to pick out of a crowd of thousands.

I'm sure I'll hear it again. I'm sure I'll have the chance to interview him before he goes into the Hall of Fame. And I hope to run into him around town, around the soccer fields, because he and his family have made Pittsburgh their home. He -- they -- will give back to this community for decades.

So it's not that he will be missed entirely. Yes, we will miss his wholly unique style of championship-level play on the football field. But he's given us enough of that. We don't need to take any more of that from him. We can all just sit back and cross our legs, relax, and let the guy breathe. He deserves that much.

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